SoCal QB Noah Fifita hopes to bring Russell Wilson-esque flare to Wildcats’ offense

Quarterback Noah Fifita #1 of Servite run for a touchdown against Damien in the first half of a prep football game at Damien High School in La Verne on Friday, March 12, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Noah Fifita became the sixth player to join Arizona’s 2022 football recruiting class when he verbally committed late last week. But, really, he was the first for a few reasons.

Fifita, a Huntington Beach, California, product and a three-star prospect, is the first high school quarterback to commit to the UA since Jedd Fisch was hired in December. The UA added Gunner Cruz and Jordan McCloud for 2021, but they are transfers.

Fifita (pronounced fuh-FEE-tuh) is the first California quarterback to commit to Arizona since former UA star Khalil Tate did so in 2016.

“When I posted my commitment video, he retweeted it so I thought that was cool,” Fifita said.

The 5-foot-10-inch, 170-pound Fifita selected the UA over Cal, Fresno State, Hawaii, Idaho State, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah State. He’s currently playing a spring season at Anaheim’s Servite High School because of the pandemic. In his first two seasons, Fifita threw for 3,036 yards and 39 touchdowns, and was intercepted twice.

Fifita is Servite teammates with two other offensive players Arizona is recruiting: four-star tight end Keyan Burnett, a USC commit, and five-star wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan.

Fifita talked to the Star on Tuesday about why Arizona is the best fit, how his skill set suits Fisch’s offense and what the future holds:

Why did you choose Arizona over the other schools?

A: “There are four points in my life: faith, family, football, and the fourth thing is loyalty. That’s how I lived my entire life. Right when the new coaching staff at Arizona came on board, they showed that they believed in me, and since they offered me, we talk about every other day. So, I have a great relationship with all of the coaches, especially Coach (Fisch), Coach (Brennan) Carroll and Coach (Jimmie) Dougherty. That’s huge, the whole loyalty thing, and I just feel really comfortable with the coaches and have a great relationship with them. But it’s a school that also has NFL coaches, and that’s the ultimate goal and where I want to go, so I talked to my dad and he told me, ‘If that’s where you want to be in life and go to the NFL, then this is a great spot to do so.’”

Between the first time Dougherty offered you until the moment you committed, how has your relationship with the Arizona coaching staff evolved?

A: “It’s grown a lot. One of the things I enjoyed the most was they weren’t pressuring me into committing. They let me enjoy the process and enjoy my recruitment and play everything out, so that was huge for me. More importantly, they’re great coaches, but they’re also great guys, easy to relate to and easy to talk to. Our relationship has grown more and more every single day.”

Before Arizona started recruiting you, what was your perception of UA football as a program?

A: “To be honest, I never thought I’d be here committed to the University of Arizona just because I didn’t talk to anybody from Arizona at the start of my recruitment. I didn’t have a perception, because I grew up a Utah fan. Two of my uncles (Steve Fifita and Kelly Talavou) went to the University of Utah, so I was always a Utah fan growing up. Obviously when they went to the Pac-12, I followed the Pac-12 a lot more. I wouldn’t say it was my dream to go to Utah, but I definitely wanted to stay out on the West Coast.”

What about the new Arizona offense suits your skillset as a quarterback?

A: “That was a huge part of my decision. Coach Carroll, the new offensive coordinator, when I first talked to him, he told me about his background with the Seattle Seahawks and how he’s been in the NFL for the last couple of years. Because he was a coach with the Seahawks, his guy is Russell Wilson and that’s always been my idol and someone I look up to. I’m not the tallest of the quarterbacks, but that’s just like Russell Wilson. Since I was a kid, I always watched his highlights and tried to model my game after him. For Coach Carroll and Coach Dougherty to see that and trust me and put me in an offense that Russell Wilson played in, that meant a lot. I’m excited to learn this offense and be in it.”

How do you think you compare to Wilson?

A: “I think our athleticism. I don’t like to talk about myself, but once I started watching his highlights, that’s something I’ve definitely modeling — alluding pressure, moving my feet is something I’ve learned from him. Plus, his accuracy, throw and release — and he’s always prepared. He’s always the most prepared on the field, and you can always tell. Us short quarterbacks don’t have the luxury of being able to see down the field over the line, so we have to get in and out of situations with our feet and always be the smartest. … I was able to go on a Zoom call with Coach Carroll and Coach Dougherty probably a month or so back and we looked at Russell Wilson film.”

Have you discussed the possibility of remaining teammates with Burnett and McMillan in college?

A: “We’ve definitely talked about ever since pretty much since we started playing together. That’s always been a hot topic and (McMillan) has always been my best friend. We bring it up, but I don’t want to force him into making a decision he doesn’t want to, but I’m going to try and get him to come with me. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen him play in person, but he’s nothing short of spectacular.”

How did you become a quarterback?

A: “I was always around football. I was born in ’03 and had uncles in college at that time. I attended my first football game at two months old at Fresno State, so I’ve been around football my entire life, literally. When I was 2 or 3 years old, my grandpa would take me outside to go play catch with the Nerf ball or tennis ball or whatever we could find around the house. He was the one who taught me how to throw. When I turned 5, that was when I first started playing football. I’m half-Tongan, so the Tongan side of my family is really big and has a lot of linebackers, defensive linemen. My dad was my coach my entire youth career, and he started me off at right tackle, but our quarterback couldn’t take a snap so he ended up putting me there. The rest is history.”

Growing up in Huntington Beach, do you surf at all?

A: “No, but I love to go to the beach with my family, but was never much of a surfer — more of a boogie-board kind of guy.”

What do you do outside of football?

A: “Just be with family. My grandma has lived in her house since before I was born, so we’ll just go over there and play cards, play dominoes, eat and just hang out. … I just enjoy hanging out with my family wherever it is, whether it’s at my grandma’s house or at the beach. When I’m not playing football, I’m spending time with my family.”

Describe yourself as a quarterback.

A: “I’m able to get the ball into my playmakers’ hands and buy time in the pocket. They labeled me as a dual-threat (quarterback), but I’m just not getting my feet and running past the line of scrimmage to make plays. But I’ve always been able to run around the pocket, create time and then I think my biggest strength is my accuracy and putting the ball exactly where I want it. That’s why I compare myself to Russell Wilson. His improvisation, accuracy and he’s probably got the best deep ball in the game. That’s what I would say my biggest strengths are.”